Baltimore charity looking toward Albanian winter

Kosovar refugees straining hosts, CRS officials say

War In Yugoslavia

May 18, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Even though summer has not yet arrived, relief agencies fear they have only 30 days to resolve the Kosovo refugee situation before they start having to worry about winter, a Catholic Relief Services official said yesterday.

Kenneth F. Hackett, the Baltimore charity's executive director, returned Sunday from a three-day trip to Albania to observe the agency's relief efforts. He also worried that the refugees' welcome in Albania is wearing thin.

Hackett was accompanied by Bishop John H. Ricard, the CRS president and former Baltimore auxiliary bishop who presides over the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida, and Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J.

"Unless there is a peaceful settlement in the next 30 days, we have to switch our planning completely. We have to start thinking about the winter," Hackett said.

"This is a country whose electricity supply is very off-and-on. In Durres [Albania], it's an hour a day -- the heating is almost nonexistent. And you drop an increased population into this area, you put tremendous strain and stress upon the structures.

"So, we're concerned about going into the winter -- and the winter starts early in Albania -- without adequate preparation," he said.

Last month, Hackett and Ricard visited Macedonia, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are being housed in camps. In the port of Durres, which the delegation visited last weekend, about 100,000 Kosovar refugees are staying with host families.

The situation is more comfortable for the refugees, but presents its own problems, since Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

"With an unemployment rate prior to the refugee flow in Albania that creeped on to about 60 percent this country is suffering," Hackett said in a briefing at Catholic Relief Services' headquarters on West Fayette Street. "And it's a mark of their tremendous generosity that they have been able to take on this refugee flow."

But the Albanian welcome appears increasingly strained, Hackett said.

"Like any of us who have had our relatives over for a stay that extended beyond its anticipated time, it creates a little bit of tension," he said. "It's natural because you've got different educational and economic levels living together. So the hosts are oftentimes less well-educated than the refugees.

"We are searching for ways to provide encouragement in Albania to the host families to stay the course and continue to accept more refugees, because the option is tent camps," Hackett said. "And that's far less suitable than a home environment, even if you're arguing with the homeowner."

To help offset the strain, CRS provided a $500,000 grant for the Albanian school system, which will aid Albanian and Kosovar children.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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